The scripture that opens Chapter 18 advocates a weekly “Gathering of Earthseed.” It is Sunday, and the traveling group is resting on a new beach in Santa Barbara County. Lauren is surprised to find that some of the local people on the beach are willing to talk to her. They discuss pyro and the problem of people setting fires. No one Lauren speaks to knows of any jobs that pay in real money. The day before, the group had stocked up on supplies at a shopping complex. They paid to do laundry, a “luxury” they can only afford to do every so often. They had hoped that the water would be cheaper further north, but so far the opposite is true.
The group is beginning to invent a new way of life together, albeit one defined by the uncertainty and struggle of being on the road.
Back on the beach, Travis questions Lauren about how she can really believe in Earthseed, when she “made it up.” Lauren responds that Earthseed comes from her observations and analysis of the world around her. She says she was “looking for God,” and what she found was change.
Travis’ question shows that he does not yet fully understand that Earthseed is less a web of intricate and mystical rules (as is the case for most other religions), but rather a more basic and abstract set of principles around which Lauren is already guiding the group. It is also possible that Travis is surprised by Lauren’s certainty in the truth of Earthseed given that she is a very young woman with relatively little experience of the world.
Harry joins the conversation. Travis discusses the physical law of entropy, which surprises Lauren; Travis explains that his mother had been a journalist and that she taught him to read and write. After Travis’s mother was forced to become a cook, Travis would secretly read the books from the library of his mother’s rich employer. Lauren reflects that this story is reminiscent of slavery, when enslaved people risked death in order to educate themselves.
The America of 2027 may look very different to the country that readers know today, but the issues depicted in the novel have a strong connection to the real history of the nation. As slaveholders once knew, literacy is a powerful skill that enables people to be able to understand the world around them—including the injustices to which they are subjected. (Indeed, there is perhaps no better evidence of the power of literacy than Lauren’s life.) It was for this reason that enslaved people were not allowed to read, and why Travis, Zahra, and others are again prevented from doing so.
Travis continues, saying that after his mother died, he and Natividad worked for the same employer; however, this man soon began making sexual advances at Natividad. The man’s wife then helped Travis and Natividad to escape. Lauren notes that no such help existed during slavery. Travis says he can’t view entropy as God because “nobody’s going to worship” change. However, Lauren points out that Earthseed isn’t about worshipping God.
In Butler’s dark vision of the future, the darkest parts of America’s past are repeated. Here she emphasizes the sexual abuse that was such a large part of the institution of slavery. Lauren also makes an important distinction about Earthseed here—it declares that God is change, but doesn’t require its followers to actually worship God; just accept the truth.
Travis points out that prayer consoles people. Lauren replies that there is hope to be found in acknowledging the truth of the universe and trying to “shape” God. Harry shouts: “Amen!” They have dinner, and Lauren reflects that it has been a good day. Harry has bought his own notebook to write in, and is helping with Zahra’s literacy lessons. Lauren even decides to tell Travis about Earthseed’s “Destiny.” Travis points out that Lauren’s God doesn’t give people the hope of heaven, but Lauren replies that Earthseed does promise heaven. She adds: “The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars.” She explains that Earthseed’s purpose is to colonize other planets. Travis says that she’s “crazy,” but seems intrigued. Lauren admits that it will be a long time before Earthseed could actually travel to space, but the task now is to begin preparations. Travis keeps listening and asking questions, which Lauren appreciates.
Lauren does not expect people to convert to Earthseed (or even to understand it) straight away. However, she appreciates Travis’ curiosity and willingness to listen to her. The respect Travis shows her is exactly what she spent her teenage years craving. The fact that Lauren has already told Travis about Earthseed’s “Destiny” despite having known him for a short period of time demonstrates her trust in him and the possibility that the community she always dreamed of forming is beginning to become a reality. While the group still faces the enormous challenge of simply surviving each day, some of them are at least now able to find hope and strength in Lauren’s vision of the future.
A week later, Lauren writes that she thinks Travis is her first convert, and Zahra is the second. Zahra isn’t interested in the outer space mission of Earthseed, but likes the idea of choosing a different way of life on Earth. Lauren thinks that she should begin keeping an eye out for new converts among the people walking north. The newly-formed community could then find a piece of land on which to live. The more people, the safer that community would be.
Like other religions, Earthseed has different meanings for different people. Lauren does not worry about the fact that not all of Earthseed’s principles appeals to each of her new converts. The most important thing is that Earthseed shows a way forward in a world defined by chaos, uncertainty, and destruction.